In 2019, the BBC broadcasted a fascinating seven-part series on modern Northern-Irish history entitled The Troubles: a Secret History. It was a very illuminating documentary. It featured previously unseen camera footage, modern-day interviews, cover-ups, double agents, SAS ambushes, leaked documents and thoughtful commentary throughout. The series ended intentionally on a solemn note. In the concluding episode, the presenter Darragh MacIntyre said that there could never be a single ‘secret history’:
Because so much remains buried, hidden from public view…[Instead, in his view, the Troubles have become]…a contest over versions of the past.
If you watch the series, you’ll understand why he came to this conclusion. Yet is this not now the post-modern assumption regarding all history? That there is no objective history (only subjective histories), no one over-arching narrative of history which we fit into – only disputes over versions of the past? Luke, the writer of the part of the Bible we’re looking at today, did not subscribe to that view of history. He wanted people to know capital ‘T’ Truth about the capital ‘H’ History of Jesus Christ, so they could know certainty and joy as they trusted in Him. Here’s what he writes in the introduction to his friend Theophilus at the beginning of his Gospel account (Luke 1.3-4):
it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
With those words in mind, let’s pray:
Father, please strengthen our confidence in the truth of the facts about Jesus and so fill our hearts with joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I have three simple points to walk us through today. Firstly:
1. Jesus appears – and the disciples see (Luke 4.36-43)
Last week, we saw how Jesus met Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus. The two of them have now just returned to Jerusalem. They find the eleven disciples and a wider group of followers. They tell them that they have seen Jesus…but then there’s a mystery gatecrasher! (Luke 4.36-37):
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.
As many of you will be aware, Valentina, myself and the family are preparing to move to St. Oswald’s in Walkergate to serve the church family there. And as part of preparing to move there, I have had the joy of meeting the church family online for a few of their church service Zoom meetings. I’ve also had the joy of meeting a few of them face to face, but I must admit my initial reaction when I first saw some of them in 3D was to feel somewhat startled and frightened! Here were 3D people who I had previously only known 2D! (I’m sure they probably felt the same way too!) Well, something similar was happening in the mind of the disciples. Though they did know Jesus well, they had in their minds that he was their friend, a great leader, the one who they had hoped would redeem Israel, but he had died on the Cross and to make matters worse his tomb was empty. That was Jesus! But then Luke 4.36 there’s this Jesus. This man who appears from nowhere, alive and speaks to them. They are startled, frightened. Is he a ghost?
Jesus senses their terror. And he presents to them two pieces of evidence that that Jesus they knew before he died on the Cross is this same Jesus alive here standing in front of them and talking to them. The first piece of evidence is flesh (Luke 4.38-40):
And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
He’s saying to them “It’s really me! The pierced hands and feet that were previously nailed to the Cross – ring any bells? Touch me and see!”
That’s flesh. The second piece of evidence is fish! (Luke 4.41-43):
And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marvelling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
Now when I first read this, I wasn’t quite sure what broiled fish was. I thought it must be a culinary cousin of boiled fish, which does not sound very appetising! But broiled fish seems much closer to barbecued fish. That’s very different. (Most of the barbecues I’ve enjoyed in the JPC church family over the years have been meaty affairs, but I remembered one tuna steak barbecue and one mackerel barbecue. Yum! Enough of that) the point is that Jesus ate the fish. He wasn’t a ghost. The food didn’t go through him. It went into his stomach. So he’s a human, a human being who has risen again from the dead. Conclusion? This Jesus, risen from dead with his glorious resurrection body is the same man as that Jesus who died publicly on the cross just a few days earlier. Where’s the evidence? Flesh and fish. But let’s also notice Jesus’ tone here as he speaks with his disciples (Luke 4.38-39):
…“Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
How gentle Jesus is. He doesn’t condemn them for not believing who he is straight away. He invites them to consider the evidence before them. How bold Jesus is too. He won’t let his disciples get away with entertaining doubts that he is just a ghost! He compels them to trust that he is really human and that He has risen from the dead with His resurrection body. And Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. So if you are watching this and you struggle with the idea that Jesus rose again, Jesus doesn’t write you off as an ‘unbeliever’, but He does urge you to engage with the evidence about Him – and then move where the evidence takes you. Will you do that?
And if you already trust in Jesus, you should not be surprised if, from time to time, your mind is clouded by doubts about Jesus “is he really fully God and fully man? Did he really rise from the dead?” Remember, friends, we’re in a spiritual battle. Satan wants us to doubt. People around us may encourage us to doubt. And the way forward is not to ‘hide away’ from our doubts, but to own up to them and come back to the Gospel accounts about Jesus Christ. That’s my first point. Jesus appears and the disciples see.
2. Jesus teaches – and the disciples understand (Luke 4.44-49):
Jesus teaches from the Old Testament about His death and resurrection. Look back with me to Luke 18.31-34, just before Jesus reaches Jericho:
And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spat upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
So here, Jesus taught that the Old Testament promises about Him would be fulfilled when he reached Jerusalem but the disciples did not understand. But it’s different this time round! (Luke 4.44-45):
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures
They get it! The penny has dropped! Because Jesus opened their minds to understand what the Scriptures were saying about His death and resurrection. But there’s still more that the disciples need to understand. (Luke 4.46-47):
and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem…”
Here’s the question: where in the Old Testament is it written that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations? For example, in Isaiah 49.6, the Lord God says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
So through God’s servant, God’s salvation will reach to the ends of the earth. So who is this servant? Luke the Gospel writer leaves us in no doubt. Back in Luke 2.29-32, the old man Simeon holds the baby Jesus and says:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles [or ‘nations’ – it’s the same word], and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon is saying that God’s servant (the one promised in Isaiah), the one who will make salvation available for all people, is Jesus Christ. People from all nations must now turn back to Jesus to receive forgiveness for their sins. In Luke 4.48, when Jesus says, you are witnesses of these things, he is actually referring to the apostles who were eye-witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. Today we in turn testify to their true presentation of Jesus Christ. The great news is that we do so, not on our own, but with the Spirit’s help (Luke 4.49):
“…And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
The apostles had to wait for the Day of Pentecost for the full outpouring of the Spirit to all believers. If we are believing in Jesus, we already have the Spirit living in us today, so we can go in Jesus’ name to take the gospel to all nations. We can play our part in bringing God’s sovereign plan to fulfilment. This should provide great encouragement for us as we seek to share the gospel with others. It’s often hard work. It’s tempting to give up and no longer dare to hope that our much loved friends, family members, work colleagues, neighbours might come to faith in Jesus. Well, it helps if we remember the bigger picture, worldwide evangelism is God’s plan and His plan is on track! In 47 B.C. Julius Caesar allegedly said these famous words after concluding an impressive military victory in Turkey:
“Veni, Vidi, Vici”
“I came. I saw. I conquered.”
The glorious risen Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ says to us today, in effect:
“I conquered. You saw. You go!”
“I conquered…. I have died for sin and risen again…you saw…you have the authentic apostolic account of this…you go!” Take the gospel to all nations – with the Spirit’s help That’s my second point. Jesus teaches – and the disciples understand.
3. Jesus leaves – and the disciples rejoice (Luke 4.50-53):
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
Why are the disciples happy that Jesus had left them? It’s because they have now understood from the Scriptures how Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension fit in to God’s purposes. So they are really happy! Do you know that joy yourself? The joy of seeing that history is not random, but has a purpose? The joy of understanding God’s plan for the world as revealed in the Bible? The joy of seeing how Jesus Christ is at the centre of that? And the joy of seeing how you can be a part of God’s great plan to spread the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth, do you know this joy? If you don’t yet, it’s not an exclusive club, come and join in with the joy!
Knowing Jesus Christ is the greatest joy. It’s a joy which springs from the certain fact in history that Jesus really did rise from the dead. It’s a joy which will always satisfy and will last forever. Why would you want to miss out? Let’s pray to the Lord Jesus now:
Lord Jesus, we thank you that you died for our sins, rose from the dead and are now seated at the right hand of your Father in heaven. Please equip us by your Holy Spirit to be confident of the gospel message you have given us to share – and to take that message boldly to the ends of the earth, with your Spirit’s help. In Jesus’ name, Amen.